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Pride and praise

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – If Carey Price secures some serious hardware at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas, you can count his former bench boss in Tri-Cities among the many people who’ll be smiling from ear to ear.

Veteran WHL head coach Don Nachbaur knew he had a special player on his hands back when the pair crossed paths in Washington State for the first time in 2003-04. Price was making his first foray into the CHL ranks back then with the Tri-City Americans, and his All-World talent was evident from the start. It’s been 11 years since Nachbaur last called Price a full-time pupil, but the former NHLer, who currently helms the Spokane Chiefs and boasts over 1,000 games of coaching experience in the WHL alone, still vividly recalls working with the Canadiens starter all those years ago.

Photo credit: Tri-City Americans

“What made Carey special was just how mature he was at 16 years old. At the time, we had a 19-year-old goaltender, Tyler Weiman, who was a fifth-rounder to Colorado. But, we knew we had a good young goalie on our hands waiting in the wings. We tried to get him in the net. That was something in the back of my mind every night. In the end, Carey just took things over and we had no problem putting him in come playoff time,” offered Nachbaur, who coached Price throughout his four-year stay in the Pacific Northwest. “I remember him making it really hard on the coaching staff as far as who to go with. That’s a real credit to him. You don’t always see guys that age who are capable of taking over from an older guy. I don’t think I’ve seen that type of maturity in all the years I’ve coached in the WHL. He was a winner from the word go.”

While the Anahim Lake, BC native might have been blessed with an abundance of natural skill, Nachbaur insists Price really was hitting his stride at such a young age because he knew exactly how to hone it. The fact that the now-four-time NHL All-Star possessed a level of mental toughness far beyond his years didn’t hurt, either.

“Carey showed a sign when he was very young that he was confident in himself, that he was composed and that nothing really rattled him. He wasn’t an arrogant player. He knew that he had certain talents, but I think that’s a talent in itself. It’s just his composure and his practice habits. I thought he made our team better simply because he made it hard for our guys to score. They had to bear down shooting pucks. That’s a sign of a big goaltender making his team better,” mentioned Nachbaur, who admits learning a thing or two from the future Jennings Award winner and Vezina Trophy, Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award candidate back then, especially during practice sessions.

“There was a time when he was standing on the post and guys were coming down on the wing and shooting at him. He would just throw his blocker out or throw his pad out. I blew the whistle and had my assistant diagram a new drill. I skated down to Carey’s end and said – “What are you doing?” He said – “I already know where they’re shooting, coach.” I told him that he couldn’t be making things look that easy and that he needed to compete a bit,” recalled Nachbaur with a laugh, noting that Price being so technically sound in his mid-to-late teens could easily have been mistaken for laziness, which certainly wasn’t the case. “He taught me something about goaltending right there. Carey could read the release off the blade based on where the guys had the puck on their sticks. That’s a sign of an advanced thinker. He was that good.”

Photo Credit: Tri-City Americans

Fast forward to Price’s final year with the Americans in 2006-07 which, according to Nachbaur, put the hockey world on notice that the now-eight-year NHL veteran was well on his way to stardom. Not only was Price a standout in Kennewick, WA, securing top goaltender honors in the both the WHL and CHL, but he also paced Team Canada to its third in a string of five straight gold medals at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Sweden before capturing the Calder Cup and AHL Playoff MVP honours with the Hamilton Bulldogs that summer.

“Maybe I’m a positive thinker, but I always believed in Carey. He went to the World Juniors [that December in Sweden] under immense pressure, especially in the shootout against the United States. He won that. To me, that just solidified who he was as a person and a player because I don’t think pressure gets any more intense for a young hockey player. I know that, having coached at the World Juniors myself. National media attention. Eighty reporters waiting outside your dressing room, while other countries only had a few reporters on site,” confided Nachbaur. “The Canadian game was at its pinnacle in those moments. Normal kids buckle under that pressure. Our guy, he was pretty solid.”

It’s no surprise to Nachbaur, then, that Price has gone on to accomplish a host of impressive feats with the Canadiens since arriving on the scene in Montreal in 2007-08, including setting a new mark for the most wins in a single season by a Habs goaltender this past April, in addition to being named the Molson Cup Player of the Year for the fifth year in a row.

“Carey was destined to have a great career because he was that good at a young age. He always had a firm belief in himself that he wouldn’t be denied. I think that supreme athletes like him have a mindset that really defines them as being different than other players. They’re highly driven and they accept responsibility,” explained Nachbaur, who was also an avid fan of Price for his level of consistency between the pipes and his willingness to support his teammates, particularly when he wasn’t in goal. “At 16, he proved he was a capable goaltender, a great goaltender. Then, there were the accolades. He was a high pick with us out of Bantam, but in order to get drafted fifth overall by the Canadiens he had to perform. That’s what he did. So, it’s not surprising to see him now. He’s got a lot of good traits as a person, a winner and a teammate. He was born with talent, but he worked extremely hard to get where he’s at.”

Now, with his former charge in line to potentially expand his trophy case by a significant margin on June 24, Nachbaur couldn’t be prouder.

“[If he wins], I think he’d be humbled with the whole thing, yet well-deserving. There would be a lot of people who’d be pleased about what he’s done. That goes far past his teammates and his family,” concluded Nachbaur, who insists Price is still rather popular in the Tri-Cities after making community service a priority during his Junior days. “Carey remembers where he comes from. He touched a lot of people over the years.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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